The 30-30 nation – On the Record

The 30-30 nation – On the Record – voter commitments

Ron Faucheux

There is a false notion in political circles that America is a 50-50 – or, more precisely, a 48-48–nation. Based on the close 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore, many election observers believe most voters are spoken for, with a tiny swing segment in the middle that tips tight races.

But America is, in reality, a 30-30 nation: with about 30 percent of the electorate solidly Republican, 30 percent committed Democratic, 35 to 36 percent in the middle and a right and left wing fringe of two to three percent on each end.

The fact that the middle bloc is larger than either party’s base is the key to the future of American politics. This big chunk of voters is not enamored with either party. In fact, most of them are repelled by the whole idea of partisanship; that’s why, when given a choice between two major party candidates, many of them register their protest by simply not voting.

But if and when these middle-ground voters swing heavily to either side, as opposed to splitting nearly down the middle the way they’ve done in recent elections, they have the power to realign the entire political system.

For six decades beginning with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, the Democratic Party was the nation’s governing party Though Republicans often held the White House and, on occasion, even the houses of Congress during this 60-year epoch, when you looked at everything–voter affiliation, elected and appointed officialdom (local, state and federal)–it was the Democratic Party that usually drove the governmental agenda in the United States until the big GOP wins of 1994.

In the nine years since the collapse of Democratic dominance, both major parties have lived off of the weaknesses and mistakes of the other and, consequently, neither has been able to build a clear, enduring advantage.

But that could soon change.

Republicans have a historic opportunity in the next few years to build a governing majority. With GOP control of the White House, Congress and a slight majority of govenorships and state legislative seats, the ball is firmly in their court. If they handle their public duties with competence, and their political chores with dexterity, they can pick up most of the marbles–and they can do it before demographic trends tilt the playing field decidedly against them.

Of course, if Republicans flub their chance, and Bush administration economic and foreign policies meltdown into failure, the GOP’s golden opportunity will evaporate–thus maintaining the 30-30 balance in which both parties continue to be minority parties, lurching from election to election for short-term gains. But for now, Republicans are in the driver’s seat.

Recent general election polls provide an interesting, though admittedly superficial, glimpse into the Republican opportunity. A May Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey showed that in trial heats against President Bush, Democratic rivals as varied as John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Richard Gephardt and Joe Lieberman each get between 29 and 31 percent of the vote, with Bush holding 56 and 60 percent. Democrats are only polling their 30 percent base–which opens the door for Republicans to raid a lion’s share of the large, eclectic middle segment of the electorate.

Though many swing voters have major doubts about Bush and his policies, they tend for now to give him the benefit of those doubts. They see him as a strong, sincere leader who’s trying to do what’s right in a troubled world.

But this Republican opportunity is less about GOP strength than it is about Democratic weakness. Democrats have run out of credibility at a time when Republicans are at the helm of power and have the chance to prove that they are, based on performance, more than narrow-minded partisans angling for naked political advantage.

While a hefty majority of voters believe Republicans are better able to handle critical military and international issues in the post-Sept. 11 era, Democrats have to struggle just to run even with their GOP rivals on handling economic issues. Though many voters are deeply concerned about retirement security health care costs and stock market losses–concerns that pose the greatest threats to a Bush re-election in 2004–these same voters remain unconvinced that the Democrats offer a viable alternative.

If Republicans exploit this volatile situation by offering a positive “win-win” national agenda that breaks them out of the political boxes they often put themselves in, they may be able to marginalize the Democrats and capture not only the next election but an enduring governing majority It is that prospect that Lieberman and Sen. Bob Graham warned about–at some political risk – in the South Carolina Democratic presidential candidate debate.

It is an important time for both parties.

Ron Faucheux is editor-in-chief of Campaigns & Elections magazine. For his ongoing handicapping of elections across the nation, see The Political Oddsmaker, available on the Web at www.campaignline.com.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

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